Friday, March 16, 2007

Bye Bye Betty Hutton

There are some few who will note the passing of Betty Hutton. During World War II, for the zany energy-driven child who loved to stage wild singing and dancing Broadway shows with his friends in a living room, Betty Hutton (“The Day His Rocking Horse Ran Away”) was the perfect model.** She had jitterbug in her veins as she danced and sang her frenetic novelty songs. [From my period (the poor man's Andy Warhol) of primitive color xerox collages, with further changes in Photoshop:]
Everyone was singing sad songs of loss, about separation from their doughboys, or they were hooked into the kind of speed that Betty Hutton personified, an energy that hoped to leap away from the terrible, drudging reality of World War II.
Those of us who remember this musical star fondly share that vice with the philosopher Wittgenstein, although Clive James insults us all: “In English, Wittgenstein devoured pulp fiction and worshipped Carmen Miranda and Betty Hutton, two of the most off-putting stars ever to burden Hollywood. This kind of slumming – which is anyway quite common among people who do intellectual work at high intensity – tends to obscure the profundity of his culture.” Although Mr. James' pretensions are silly, it is certainly true that nonsense, especially when sung at tongue-twisting speed, is, paradoxically, the best vacation for someone who is normally dissecting and analyzing language down to the letter.
The obituaries say that Betty Hutton “brought a brassy vitality to Hollywood musicals” (with absurd plots, often set unrealistically against World War II – I suppose only those with a childhood connection will feel any nostalgia about Betty Hutton, although on the few occasions when she sang softly, she sang ballads affectingly.) Ms. Hutton is also in a “classic,” the 1944 Preston Sturges satire, “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” that “rattled the censors with the story of a young woman who gets pregnant and can’t quite remember who the father is.”
Like many other “stars” of the era, Ms. Hutton fell from the heights to the depths, discovered later as the cook in the church where she had converted to Roman Catholicsm – where she also taught acting – after a dark period of bankruptcy, alcohol and substance abuse, attempted suicide, and a nervous breakdown.
**I doubt if anyone who read this Betty Hutton piece on my blog will want to see filmstrips of her singing, but my friend Willie, has kindly put two on his blog -- something I ought to know how to do myself. If nothing else, you can sample Willie's blog. You might also see why those of us who were children before THE ELECTRIC COMPANY might have liked her zany energy.
For that few who rememember this woman (a person who MUST have suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder and whose act would have never happened if she had been given Ritalin!):

1 comment:

T Hill said...

I saw Red, Hot, and Blue last on on TCM. She has the same magic as a Comedian as Garland, Jolson, or anyone else I can think of. But with infinite energy. She over-performs her numbers to the point where she knocks them right off the table, wo that what you thought you were watching is no longer what you are watching. This isn't a love, scene; this isn't a musical number; this isn't a movie. Marcel Duchamp couldn't do it better. The Shakespeare number, by the way, is a real wonder to behold. If you listen closely you'll discover one of the best readings of Hamlet out there. I have to agree with Wittgenstein on this one -- she has become one of my favorite artists.